Rise of Replacement Foods Is Wake-Up Call for Traditional Brands
By Lou Jordano

Every year, many consumers take their personal wellness more and more seriously. Whether they’re buying wearable health devices to track their fitness or looking for personalized exercise routines, there’s no denying that the consumer health landscape is evolving.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the food industry. As consumers become more knowledgeable and opinionated about their nutrition needs, they are also becoming more demanding of the brands that feed them. General health advice like “Eat your fruit and veggies” has fragmented into much more granular recommendations about minimizing specific ingredients or even giving up entire food groups altogether.

Low-carb, dairy-free, all natural — there seems to be no end to the specialty diets consumers are adopting. But what does this increasingly personalized and ever-changing dietary advice mean for the CPG industry? What types of foods are consumers looking for — and looking to avoid?

When we analyzed nutrition conversations online, we found that consumers are looking for healthier alternatives to their favorite foods. One category that has exhibited growing popularity in recent years is called replacement foods.

A replacement food is a healthier option to another popular dish, such as cauliflower rice being a low-carb option to rice, zucchini noodles replacing pasta, or our milk coming from almonds instead of cows. The list grows every year, and so does the consumer conversation about them.

We analyzed millions of consumer conversations online about food and nutrition since 2010 to better understand:

  • The rise of replacement foods
  • Why consumers are seeking them more and more
  • Which audiences are most engaged in the conversation.

Is Butter a Carb?
Health-conscious consumers are getting pickier about what products they put in their bodies. But what ingredients are consumers becoming most wary of? And where are they turning for substitutes. Before we can answer those questions, we need to better understand their health concerns and preferences. The easiest way to do that is by looking at what types of diets consumers are talking about.

Veganism is the most popular dietary choice, but gluten-free and low-carb diets have been on the rise. Carbs have been the popular enemy in the weight loss community, and low-carb diets like Keto or Atkins have become trendy. Interest in low-fat diets has diminished since 2010.

This data makes it clear that consumers are increasingly shunning carbs and dairy products — but what are they replacing then with?

In the milk alternative conversation, almond milk rules. Amassing more mentions than all other milk alternatives combined, almond milk has seen a significant increase in terms of conversation (and sales) over the past few years.

In the rice conversation, quinoa is king. Quinoa was notably dubbed a superfood, and 2013 was the International Year of Quinoa. Conversations about quinoa saw one of the first real spikes in conversation volume in 2013 – and it hasn’t slowed since. Cauliflower rice has gained some traction recently, despite having almost no conversation until 2017. Farro and couscous have also become more popular recently.

When it comes to pasta, consumers love “zoodles” (zucchini noodles). Spaghetti squash is also a popular substitute, with over 10,000 mentions monthly. Other veggie noodles, such as beet noodles or sweet potato noodles, also contribute to the conversation.

Consumers Looking for Replacements
We know which diets consumers are trying, and which foods they’re replacing. But do we know why? Is it purely a health play? Or is it driven more by allergies and sensitivities?

It turns out it depends. Let’s start by looking at the reasons consumers are abandoning cow’s milk.

Health benefits make up the largest portion of the milk replacement conversation, but veganism has become one of the leading reasons for giving up dairy milk. Lactose intolerance has become an increasingly popular reason for consumers to shun traditional milk. Taste used to make up about 30 percent of the conversation, but it has since diminished to only about 20 percent.

Reasons for giving up rice and pasta, however, are more health-focused More than 60 percent of the conversation about giving up rice and pasta centers around health reasons. Low-carb diets have also become a more popular topic of conversation.

Audience for Replacement Foods
We know that consumers replace foods for several reasons, but what do we know about who these specific consumers are? Can we find any personas or patterns within the audience for replacement foods? Who is most interested in finding replacements for common diet staples?

Turns out, women are generally more likely to give up a food group, but men are more interested in certain diet options. When it comes to gluten, women dominate the conversation, making up about 80 percent of the discussion. However, men are more interested in fat-free diets than any other diet change.

Similarly, consumers over 35 are always the majority of the conversation, but millennials are interested in certain diet choices. Consumers over 35 are much more likely to be gluten-free and vegan. Consumers under 35 are more interested in dairy-free, low-carb, or low-fat diets.

Implications for CPG Brands
As consumers look for healthier alternatives to popular foods, CPG brands have a great opportunity to create new products to meet demand, but only if they understand the evolving trends.

Brands can take this information and see that consumers are getting more and more interested in replacing less healthy foods and beverages with alternative products. The more options they can provide, the happier their customers will be.

So, how are brands capitalizing? And which ones?

When looking at top brands selling replacement foods and comparing them to the more traditional food brands, there is a clear difference in consumer sentiment. The replacement brands, Almond Breeze almond milk and 365 and GoGo Quinoa, have higher positive sentiment than the more traditional brands, Nestle milk and Minute Rice.

Seeing higher positive sentiment for these newer products shows that consumers want more options when it comes to dietary staples like dairy and rice. Americans want healthier options. Leaning into these consumer dietary trends can help a the reputation of a brand, benefiting it in the long run.

Lou Jordano is Chief Marketing Officer at Crimson Hexagon, an AI-powered consumer insights company.

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                                                                   Early July 2018